Friday, February 13, 2015

Living Surf Guitar Guru: Jason Lee

I have always had a love of surf rock music; as long as I can remember at least.  The person responsible for giving me my very first introduction to this music genre would have to be my Uncle Mark.  I have a few memories of visiting him and my aunt when they were living in Huntington Beach, California in the early 1980's.  My memories are a bit hazy, as I was very young, and the memories are melded into two scenarios of how I came to know and love this style of instrumental guitar styling.  The first is hearing this music being played in the background (most likely on a cassette tape player), and the second is memory is of my Uncle showing my Dad a video of various surfers ridding waves with this music as a soundtrack backing.

Then there is my Disneyland experience.  Believe it or not Dick Dale, the king of the surf guitar, actually provided a track to be played in perfect symmetry with the dips, swoops and turns that make up the Space Mountain attraction at Disneyland. This sci-fi/surf rock version of "Le Carnival Des Animaux: Aquarium", written by Camille Saint-Saenes ran in the ride from 1996 to 2003.  I bring along my MP3 player and headphones and play the original track when I ride Space Mountain to this day.  I'm definitely not a fan of the "Incredibles" theme which now currently plays on the ride.

This leads me into my interview with someone I consider to be one of the greatest modern day surf guitarists alive.  Jason Lee!!  

(Photo by Tom Stratton)

I'm so lucky to have had several opportunities to see him preform live with his band Jason Lee and the R.I.P  as well as his other band The Black Tides while I was living in San Diego.  His musical talents are also paired up with an always very pleasant, friendly, and very easy going demeanor.  He has in the past offered classes on how to play surf rock which were an offered symposium at Tiki Oasis as well as created various tutorials online for fellow guitar enthusiasts (check one of his videos here). He also currently provides backing music to various television shows that air on A&E, Spike and the Discovery Channel. It's no wonder he has become such a staple and local celebrity to the Tiki subculture.  

Suz - When did you first start playing the guitar?

Jason - I must've been around seven years or so, and then really started taking it seriously when one uncle in specific was teaching me bi-weekly lessons and I never stopped after that.

Suz - Could you share your first encounter or first time ever hearing surf guitar music? 

Jason - That would be hints of solo's from The Beach Boys records being played....My mind lit up as a child when I heard a heavy reverb guitar lead.  I thought....."Man that is something different" 

Suz - When did you decide that you wanted to play this genre? 

Jason - Contrary to what fans might think..... I didn't play Surf music when I was young....I wrote it, but didn't perform it.  I played in numerous bands that were amazing to play with.  But, when I got home I was always writing Surf music and that kind of took over.  It wasn't until I recorded my first all surf EP that I completely switched over.

Suz - Who were your idols or icons that you looked to for inspiration when you first started playing and or still do currently?

Jason - Early on, flat out - Mark Knopfler from Dire Straits.  I had a VHS I taped of them off of KPBS when they played Brothers in Arms and at eleven years old I understood everything he was about.  I would go to school the next day and obviously no kid knew who I was talking about.  You can hear his style come out of me sometimes.....he's the reason I hold back on how many notes I play in a measure on songs.  Most surf guitarists can't wait to fit as many notes as possible, like an antsy thirteen year old on his first date. 

Suz - Do you have any favorite live shows or events you have played in the past and any future shows you are looking forward to?

Jason - We owe a lot to Tiki Oasis so there are many fond memories over the years, but opening for Davie Allen, special guesting with so many other acts and teaching my Symposium each year has been such a ride already.  I think all of it is just great.  We have a lot on our plate right now so we shall see where life takes us.

Suz - Do you have a favorite song that you perform and what makes it your favorite?

Jason - I love the song "Snake Eyes" that we play live.  It has such a fast energy and I get to solo in the live version.  The ending hits you like a ton of bricks if you see us live.

Suz - Let's talk about your trademark look.  How did your amazing trademark hairstyle come about? I must state too that you have an impressive collection of vintage western men's shirts! When did you being your collection?

Jason - My hair is thick and dry.  And it grows UP.  Its always been that way.  So in my late teens I just started adding product.  I have a fascination with second generation western show wear.  Colors that are way to bright and too many patterns to count are interesting to me.  I have a huge collection so they tend to make their way into all of my YouTube videos.  As the videos blew up in the early days of YouTube the shirts just kind of became synonymous with me.  A happy curse maybe?...

Suz - If you could come up with a beginners list for equipment needed to start jamming some surf tunes what would you suggest they acquire to do so? 

Jason - Any basic clean tube amp with a separate reverb unit will do the trick.  A Jazzmaster, Jaguar or Strat will do just fine for guitar.  Work on your right hand speed and don't over think what you are doing.  Start slow.

Suz - Having Dinoysus Records distribute and release your music this last April on LP and digital I know was a huge milestone; not to mention having a ceramic mug made in your honor to your likeness!  What are some other goals or hope you have for your music and the band?

Jason - I can honestly say the band is a well oiled machine right now.  Dionysus records has been great to us.  Lee pushes very hard for his artists.  We can't believe how many records sold last year worldwide and we can't thank the fans enough.  As far as the future, we basically wanna keep pushing the surf music genre to be bigger.  I feel that I am one of the ones that push the hardest to get bands respect in our sub-culture.  I want bands and players to work hard and make this a viable market.  We have a new album in the works on Dionysus with an added direction, and our side group,  The Black Ties, will always have an influence on the upcoming records.  We look forward to what the future brings us and remember, it's our fans that dictate our musical direction.  We listen every time someone speaks.  So speak up if you like something.  It will more than likely make the record.

If you would like to know more about Jason Lee and his band Jason Lee and the R.I.P. Tides please be sure to check out his website here.  If you live in San Diego, or nearby, don't miss out on their next show on February 20th at 9pm at the Cat Eye Club located in the Gaslamp District of downtown San Diego, California.

Till' Next Time,


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